8 Oct

This blog is a bit later than it should be. Okay, fine. This blog is very late, but good things come to those who wait and besides, it’s not as though you had a lot of choice in this. You had to wait patiently for me to write this because . . . well, just because. And stop complaining, no-one likes a whiner.

So, quite a while back Marta and I saw an offer for a mini-cruise to Amsterdam, overnight ferry from Newcastle and then another overnight ferry on the way back. At this point I’d like to say we didn’t look too closely at the time-frame involved other to check out connecting trains. This may not seem relevant now but all will be made clear later.
Train journey from Glasgow to Newcastle was surprisingly pleasant. Very little in the way of screaming children or giggling girls going to hen-parties or drunken rugby fans who believe that everyone should share in their exuberance. Instead the journey involved kindle and mps players. A good start.
We had some time to kill in Newcastle and went to a pub called the Dog and Duck, Pig and Whistle, Ferret and Trousers, Tom and Jerry, something like that anyway. When you looked at it from outside it seemed like an old mans’ local with dirty windows, cigarettes butts sitting all around the doorway and the steady drone of complaints about how things were so much better when “I were a lad!” That’s how it looked. Inside there was rock music blaring, wallpaper with Blues and Jazz images, a red pool table and absolutely no customers apart from us. Just shows that you can’t tell a pub from its name. (Hmm, wonder if that phrase will ever replace the one about books and covers? Maybe I should patent it.)

Simple bus trip to the ferry terminal later and everything was going smoothly. Quick check in, an upgrade so that all food was included in the price and then the customs. Customs. Yes. I have a shaved head and goatee, a scar that I have been told is pretty obvious although I think it’s just a little scratch and people are exaggerating and my default expression is a scowl. For some reason I often get picked out for “random” checks and this time was no exception. But I was innocent!
“What?” I hear you cry. “Surely you mean you didn’t get caught rather than you were innocent?” No, I was truly innocent. Besides, who would want to smuggle contraband going into Amsterdam?
I couldn’t keep the smug smile off my face as the customs official found nothing in my bag and walked up the gangway to the ferry with a cocky swagger. Yeah, that didn’t last long. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a channel ferry or the ones that take you out to the local islands, but they tend to have very low doors going into the ship and plaster black and yellow tape all across it to warn people that it is a low roof and to mind their heads. Guess what happened?
Once I recovered from my concussion Marta and I went aboard, walked up the stairs to the main entrance deck and were greeted very cordially by a couple of the staff. I politely asked directions to our cabin and was met by a blank stare. After asking again I was told it was probably that way by a person pointing at half the ship. Helpful, very helpful. After only three full circuits of the entire ship we found the cabin. Cabin I say, perhaps broom cupboard would be more accurate. I hadn’t realised that we had bunk beds and then I remembered that Marta isn’t comfortable with heights. I looked at the top bunk with dismay and quickly came to the conclusion that it was time to head to the bar.

The rest of the day was pleasant enough even though there was some confusion when we realised that the moment the ship undocked they went onto mainland Europe time. I think there was an announcement made over the public address system but if you’ve every tried to make sense of one of those I’m sure you understand why we missed it. We had our meal booked for 6pm or so I thought. So when we turned up at 6 o’clock we were informed that we were an hour late and that our table was due to be used by another couple shortly. Hilarity ensued, as I’m sure you can imagine.
A few more drinks in the evening and then it was time for bed. After a wobbly trip back to the cabin and I swear it was the motion of the boat rather than the alcohol in my system, I stood there looking up at the top bunk. It seemed like a very long way off and when I did make my way up there I discovered that the ceiling, or whatever it’s called on a ship, was about 4 inches from my nose. Yes, my nose may be relatively long and pointy, but even so it was quite disconcerting.
Next morning was getting ready for docking in Amsterdam. Breakfast, preparations and then standing in line for a very long time while everyone went through customs again. This time I was singled out because my passport is quite old and the picture in it may look slightly different to the person I see in the mirror. The passport shows a young man in his prime with hair, a sparkle in his eye and no beard.

Perian New

The person standing in front of the customs officer was bald, had a dark ginger goatee with a spattering of grey in it, dull and listless eyes and a small bruise on his forehead from where he sat up too quickly before remembering the size of the bunk bed. Thankfully, I was able to charm my way through the customs and set foot on foreign soil.
A quick bus journey from the ferry terminal into Amsterdam – if you can call an hour quick – and we were finally there. A city of culture, of history, of canals and of drugs. First thing we did, naturally, was the canal tour. Hah – I know what you were thinking there. Fooled you, tourist thing first. Besides, we could see where the canal boats were and after all that time sitting what we needed was . . more sitting. Yeah, thinking about that now I can see the flaw in the logic. But never mind, canal tour it was. Very scenic and picturesque and I’m glad we took the tour, but it’s not something you would want to do more than once. You can only look as so many flats that used to be warehouses before they begin to blur into one.
We survived the trip – despite the families with screaming children. It’s strange how your thoughts can wander to the possibility of throwing children out of boat windows when they refuse to shut up. The parent find it easy to ignore them – everyone else in the world not so much. On a side note to parents – you can tune your kids out, you want to ignore them for a while so you can relax. IT SPOILS IT FOR EVERYONE ELSE! Ahem, sorry, got carried away there.
Back on dry land it was time to explore. First stop was a small coffee shop for a Muffin. Very pleasant, moist with decent sized chocolate chips. I’m sure there was some other flavour to it, possibly pecan or almonds but not absolutely. You know the sort of thing, you can almost tell what it is but not certain. Some strange and exotic addition to the muffin that makes it all so much better. So good that it makes the world a happier place.

Refreshed and ready to face the world we went off to explore the streets of Amsterdam. Yup, not much different from any other decent sized city really. After a while the streets seemed to become even more similar to one another and it became difficult to judge distances. Almost as if we couldn’t tell how much time had passed and our sense of direction wasn’t quite what it normally was. I began to get suspicious about our exact location when I realised that we passed the same bar three times even though I was certain that we hadn’t turned any corners. Either time and space was being distorted by a nearby black hole or we had some kind of bizarre food poisoning. Both would explain what was going on and I can’t think of anything else that would.
I knew deep in my heart that we were close to where the bus was going to pick us up to take us back to the ferry. I knew that we hadn’t walked that far. I knew that the bus would be somewhere close to a bar and a canal and how many places like that could there be in Amsterdam. You may not believe this but there are quite a few. It’s full of damn canals and bars and they all look identical to one another. It’s a conspiracy by the locals to confuse tourists, they do it deliberately and they go around counting the bloated and floating corpses of those desperate enough to throw themselves into the canals after wandering lost for weeks.
It’s surprising how long you can be convinced that your destination is just round the next corner before you begin to doubt yourself. I think it was four times I said that the bus was definitely, certainly with no shadow of a doubt just on the next street, that we would be there any second and that there was nothing to worry about. Marta, for some reason, seemed to be a bit paranoid, worrying that the bus would leave without us, that we were never going to find the place and that we should possibly have another Muffin just to make sure that we had the strength to carry on with our long and dangerous trek.
But either the gods or fate was on our side and finally, after much worry and wrong turns and seeing other lost and confused tourists we were back where we should be and the bus was there waiting to take us back to the ferry. It had been a long and tiring time in Amsterdam, surely we must have been there for at least three days, maybe even longer. Time had distorted so much that the clocks on our phones must have been affected because there was no possible way that they could be correct.

The journey back on the ferry was a bit more . . turbulent . . . than the calm trip over and it was then that I realised that Marta is really not a good sailor and that green is not her colour, at least not when it’s shading her cheeks. She spent most of the trip back in the cabin while I spent it in the bar. By the end of the day we seemed to be as unsteady as each other. And I still had to deal with that damned bunk bed. Everyone should have at least one arch enemy in their life, a nemesis that they have to deal with, a villain that is there to thwart them at every opportunity and that bunk bed is mine. Or at least it was for those couple of nights. I would like to say that I vanquished it and good triumphed over evil, but it kicked my ass to the extent of another concussion and a twisted ankle. And no, don’t say that good did triumph over evil by it beating me. It’s not big and it’s not clever to be mean to me like that.
Once we got home, put our feet up and relaxed I did a little bit of counting and calculation. I figured out that we spent just over 40 hours travelling (although a lot of that time was spent asleep on the ferry) for six hours in Amsterdam. Six Hours! Six bloody hours and most of that time had been spent geographically misplaced. I doubted my own calculations, there was no way that we had been there for just six hours, but it was true. Time outside the city must have been passing at a different rate than what we experienced because the world may say that only six hours passed, but I know it was much, much longer than that.
Can I just say that again? Thank you. Forty hours travelling for six hours of tourist stuff! Admittedly, the travelling was part of the tourist part of the trip but it sounds much more dramatic if I can complain about 40 hours and then put exclamation marks at the end of the six hours comments. Six Hours! See, looks much better that way.

Six cloxk
It’s a break away that I’m glad we did, first trip to Amsterdam for either of us but it’s not something we would be in a hurry to do again. Unless of course it could happen without bunk beds.


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